Estate Planning

What Is Probate? Understanding How Probate Works In Canada

One of the questions that often arises when dealing with the affairs of a deceased person is whether or not their will must be probated. But what exactly is probate, and as an executor, how do you know if a will needs to be probated?

Probate is an important legal process that occurs after a person’s death. It involves the validation of the deceased’s will and the distribution of their assets and property according to their specified wishes.

In this article, I’ll walk you through the probate process and explain the various steps that are involved. I’ll also give you an idea of the costs of filing probate and share some tips to reduce the estate’s financial burden.

What Is Probate?

Probate is a legal process that takes place after someone passes away. It involves the validation of their will and the distribution of their assets and property according to that will. A probate court formally appoints an executor to fulfill the deceased person’s wishes.

In Canada, probate laws and regulations can vary depending on the specific province or territory. Although the process may seem daunting, it is generally straightforward and easy to comprehend.

Key Steps In The Probate Process

Probate can be critical to ensuring that a deceased’s property is legally and fairly distributed according to their intentions. Here’s how probate works in Canada:

  1. The first step in the process is to locate the deceased’s will. The will should nominate an executor, who is responsible for managing the deceased’s estate.
  2. The executor must submit the will, along with a certified copy of the death certificate, to the appropriate probate court in their province.
  3. Upon filing, the court will review and validate the will. If the will is deemed valid, the court will grant the executor the authority to carry out their duties. This authority is called a Grant of Probate, or Letters Probate, and it allows the executor to access the deceased’s assets, pay any debts or taxes owing, and distribute the remaining assets according to the will’s instructions.
  4. The executor administers the probated will. During the asset distribution, the executor must follow certain guidelines and steps. They start by creating an inventory of the deceased’s assets, including real estate, accounts at financial institutions, personal belongings, and any other items of value.Next, the executor must assess and settle any outstanding debts or financial obligations, such as mortgage payments, taxes, and other liabilities. Once all debts are settled, the remaining assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries named in the will.

What Does the Court Review When Probating a Will?

When a will is submitted for probate, the probate court must confirm that there are no other existing wills for the deceased. If multiple wills are found, the court will determine which will is the most recent and valid. This is necessary to ensure the deceased person’s true intentions are carried out.

During the probate process, interested parties are given an opportunity to challenge the will’s validity. This may arise if someone believes they have a valid claim to the estate or if there are concerns about the testator’s mental capacity at the time the will was created.

Once the will is validated and any challenges have been addressed, the court issues a Grant of Probate to the executor. This document gives the executor legal authority to administer the estate according to the instructions in the will.

What are the Executor’s Responsibilities?

With a Grant of Probate in hand, the executor can now begin the process of administering the will. The executor’s responsibilities include identifying and gathering all the assets and paying any unpaid debts, taxes, and funeral expenses. The executor must also distribute the remaining assets to the named beneficiaries as per the will’s instructions.

The executor must uphold their duties to the estate and its beneficiaries. These duties include acting in the best interest of the estate, avoiding conflicts of interest, and providing proper accounting of their actions.

Probate Costs

Probate costs, fees, and estate administration tax will vary depending on factors such as the province of residence and the estate’s value. Probate fees in Canada can be up to 1.5% of the value of the deceased’s estate or even higher, depending on the province.

Some provinces waive probate fees or offer a considerable discount for smaller estates. Understanding your province’s fee structure will help you better anticipate potential costs.

When determining the estate’s value for probate fee calculations, consider the monetary value of all assets, such as real estate, investments, business holdings, and personal property. Note that some provinces charge a flat fee for probate, while others use a sliding scale based on the estate’s value.

How To Reduce Probate Fees

The best way to minimize costs is to avoid probate fees altogether. Here are some tips to help you reduce or avoid probate fees in Canada, which could save your heirs both time and money.

  1. Name a beneficiary on all registered accounts, such as Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs) and Tax-Free Savings Accounts (TFSAs). By designating a beneficiary other than your estate, the assets in these accounts can bypass probate and be transferred directly to the named individual upon your death.
  2. Set up joint ownership of assets, with the right of survivorship. When you own property jointly with someone, like a surviving partner or family member, they automatically inherit your share of the property upon your death, providing the account has a survivorship clause. This can apply to bank accounts, investments, and real estate property.
  3. Create a trust. Trusts allow you to manage your assets while you’re still alive and may be excluded from the probate process when you pass away. Assets held in a trust are not considered part of your estate and won’t be subject to probate fees.
  4. Make tax-free gifts during your lifetime. Gifting assets to your loved ones while you’re alive allows you to reduce the size of your estate and the ensuing probate fees.
  5. Purchase life insurance. Proceeds from life insurance policies are paid directly to the named beneficiary, bypassing probate and avoiding probate fees.

Remember to consult with a lawyer or estate planner in Canada when implementing these strategies, as each individual situation is unique.

Final Thoughts On Probate In Canada

By understanding the probate process in Canada and taking proactive steps to plan your estate, you can alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty that comes with end-of-life matters. Always consider your loved ones and their future needs as you make these important decisions.


How long does the probate process take?

Generally, the probate process can take anywhere from a few months to over a year. The duration depends on several factors, such as the complexity of the deceased person’s estate, the efficiency of the executor, and whether any disputes arise. If the executor can handle the process efficiently and maintain clear communication with the beneficiaries, they can avoid any unnecessary delays.

Are there any differences in probate across provinces?

There are differences in probate procedures and fees across Canadian provinces. Probate costs typically depend on the size of the entire estate and the province you live in. Some provinces may not charge any probate fees for smaller estates. However, it is important for you to familiarize yourself with the specific rules and regulations in your province to ensure compliance and a smooth probate process.

Is it mandatory to go through probate?

The probate process is not always mandatory, but you will require probate if the deceased had a will and owned assets that need legal distribution, such as a real estate property, or if they passed away without a will.

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